The Select Board Monday voted 3-2 to sustain the current elective status of the Board of Assessors.
Members Margot Fleischman, Bopha Malone, and Emily Mitchell voted against proposed bylaw and charter amendments that would convert the position to appointed. Board member William Moonan, who has been an advocate of the change for more than a year, was joined by Chair Ed Pierce in support of including the proposed change on this year’s town meeting warrant.
These amendments would ultimately give appointment power to the Select Board.
In a memo to the board, Moonan cited a 2018 performance review of the Assessing Department. He highlighted the recommendation that “The town should merge the assessing operations into the finance department.” Also included was a recommendation that “the Finance Director should have direct appointment and management control over assessing.”
Moonan also noted that “the review was prompted by the town’s failure to set its fiscal year 2018 tax rate in a timely fashion.”
Moonan also explained that these recommendations were partially met as a charter amendment passed at Bedford’s 2019 Special Town Meeting that gave the town manager “the power to appoint and remove, subject to the approval of the Board of Assessors, and supervise the town assessor.” This amendment was approved by voters at the town election in March 2020.
But he stressed that this change did not wholly integrate the Assessing Department and Finance Department as initially recommended.
Rebecca Neale, a member of the Board of Assessors for the past year, assured that the board is working much better. “Before I joined the board, I did hear that there was some drama, but I am more than happy to report there was no drama in the past year,” Neale said. “I don’t think the issues that I’ve heard people express concerns about are present right now.”
Ronald Cordes, a retiring member of the Board of Assessors, said Moonan’s proposal is “a solution in search of a problem” and his narrative is “non-factual.” Cordes also stressed that many members of other elected committees would oppose this change in fear that their committees could come next.
His wife Catherine Cordes, the town Moderator and the chair of the town Charter and Bylaw Review Committee, said that she and the rest of the committee chose not to pursue this charter change through various discussions and research.
The committee “stopped [reviewing] charters when we finished the charter amendments at 2019 Special Town Meeting,” Cordes said. She questioned the reasoning for bringing the charter change back and restated the committee’s decision to not recommend any additional changes.
Moonan disagreed with the criticism, stating that the town has had difficulty hiring a full-time professional assessor; he said the history of the Board of Assessors has and will continue to scare off applicants.
Town Manager Sarah Stanton confirmed that the position has been advertised for the past two-and-a-half years and said the prolonged vacancy could be due to the scarcity of professionals.
Fleischman agreed with Stanton and said that this amendment should be reviewed at a later point. Malone said that she has been on the fence for the past two weeks, and after listening to the current procedure, she wants to maintain the existing structure. Malone said that the change could be reviewed again but will not support the amendment at the moment.